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A Primer
for Filmmaking

If you want to understand how to make a movie, you've come to the right place. This is an overview of the filmmaking process--a primer, if you will. The process is probably a bit different than what you think it is.

For example, novice filmmakers often believe that the director is also the cameraman. This is not the case. In fact, the cameraman is not even the "cameraman." The job is split between two specialists: the cinematographer (who oversees photography of the movie) and the camera operator (who physically handles the camera).

But hold on! We're getting way ahead of ourselves. Let's back up and start from the beginning. It's obvious that making a movie involves "lights, camera, and action," as they say, but how is this actually accomplished? By understanding the steps used to make a movie, you will better see how the pieces fit together.

The filmmaking process can be divided into five basic steps:


In the development stage, the producer secures the script and raises financing. The script is perhaps the most important single ingredient used to make a movie. It serves not only as the blueprint for production, but also as the foundation for everything that follows.

The story must be outstanding; otherwise the finished film is destined to failure. The producer can locate a great story by purchasing the rights to a book, optioning an existing screenplay, or adapting a news item or historic event.


When people talk about making a movie, they are usually referring to production, but a lot of work occurs prior to the camera rolling. This period is called pre-production.

During pre-production, the director, cast, and crew are hired. Casting is perhaps the most important element after the script. Great acting gives life to a great script, but poor acting is its death knoll.

On major productions, casting can take many months. It's important to find actors that are not only fine performers but also have the ability to bring depth and dimension to the roles. In addition to casting and crewing, pre-production also involves finding locations and developing the production schedule.


During actual production, the director is the artistic leader, responsible for translating the script to the screen. To accomplish this he relies on different craft departments--camera, sound, design, etc.

Each craft department has it's own boss. For example, the cinematographer is in charge of the camera department, the mixer is in charge of the sound department, and the production designer is in charge of the design department.

Based on years of union regulation, each department is carefully structured with it's own chain of command. You wouldn't think this because film is considered an art form, but a major film production is run like a well-oiled corporate machine!


As you might expect, post-production involves editing the film, which is shot in small snippets and usually out of sequence.

What most novice filmmakers don't understand is that sound editing is a huge part of the post-production process. There are special editors called "sound designers" that add all of those great sound effects that add to the excitement of a scene.

Sound actually goes through two cycles in post-production. The first cycle involves adding sound effects and music, and the second step involves blending all the sound tracks together. The latter step is crucial because it puts all of the tracks in proper perspective.


When a movie is completed, it goes through a roll-out process whereby the film is distributed to different outlets for exhibition to the public. There are many steps involved, including: developing an advertising campaign, assessing how many theaters to open in, determining whether to enter film festivals or use sneak previews, etc. Later considerations are DVD, TV and international release.

Like the other areas of the filmmaking, there are people who specialize in different types of distribution. Although many low budget films wait until the end of the filmmaking process to secure distribution, successful producers know that this is one of the first steps and it goes hand in hand with raising financing.

If you are a low budget filmmaker, you will not be able to afford all of the specialists discussed above. This doesn't mean that you can't make a great movie.

To achieve the highest level of efficiency for your limited money, it is important to combine jobs and duties in a logical way. Remember, you cannot do everything yourself, and if you try to, the final product will be inferior. At the very least, you should have a competent cinematographer, sound person, and assistant director.

Finally--and this applies to all levels of production from no budget to mega budget--you must have a great script and talented actors. Otherwise, you are wasting your time.

We hope that this primer is helpful in understanding how all the pieces fit together to make a movie. Best of luck!  -

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